Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4, 1982

I spent my first, and only, Fourth of July outside the United States on July 4, 1982. I was in London with my girlfriend (and future wife) Tina; she was in London on business for CBS Records International. I tagged along to do some business-----negotiating North American rights to books published by British publishers such as Granada and the Institution of Electrical Engineers-----but most of my time was being a tourist. On the morning of July 4, Tina was in the CBS offices while I was exploring the Egyptian section of the British Museum (yeah, mummies fascinate me). We had thought about going to the cook-out and baseball game held at the American Embassy in London each July 4, but instead decided to have dinner early that day and to meet in the Soho section of London.

We were both feeling a little homesick that day, and almost puzzled----why are these stupid Brits working today?? Don't they realize it's the Fourth of July?? The Soho area has several terrific Chinese restaurants, and we finally decided on one that had air conditioning (that's still a rarity in the UK). We ordered, and sat back to await the arrival of the spicy vegetables on crispy noodles. The background music in the restaurant was the instrumental, "Muzak" style you hear in elevators and doctor waiting rooms.

And then we both started laughing hysterically, because a syrupy version of "White Christmas" began playing over the restaurant's music system.

It was like a scene from a David Lynch film: I was in a Chinese restaurant in London, on the Fourth of July, listening to "White Christmas." And I wished, I really wished, I was back in the United States. Oh, I always enjoyed London, but on that particular day, at that moment, I was more conscious of being an American than I had ever been before in my life.

I often hate the American government and American politicians (both Republicans and Democrats), but I love the American nation. I consider being born an American citizen to have been the luckiest break of my life. And since July 4, 1982, this holiday has had a very special meaning for me. All it took was a Chinese restaurant and an instrumental version of "White Christmas."